Democracy in Americaby Alexis de Tocqueville
No other book is as pervasively woven into the fabric of American public life and culture as Democracy in America. Tocqueville's study of nineteenth-century America is cited often and everywhere: from presidential addresses to high-school speeches, from the editorial pages of national newspapers to local radio broadcasts, from high-school and college classrooms to… See more details below
No other book is as pervasively woven into the fabric of American public life and culture as Democracy in America. Tocqueville's study of nineteenth-century America is cited often and everywhere: from presidential addresses to high-school speeches, from the editorial pages of national newspapers to local radio broadcasts, from high-school and college classrooms to Sunday sermons. This Norton Critical Edition is based on the 1835 and 1840 English translations of Tocqueville's two volumes by his friend Henry Reeve. It allows today's readers to experience the book as Tocqueville's contemporaries did. It is accompanied by a full-scale introduction addressing Democracy in America's canonical place in American life and by essential explanatory annotations.
"Backgrounds" includes related letters from Tocqueville to Ernest de Chabrol, Henry Reeve, and John Quincy Adams, among others, in which he shares impressions of his nine-and-a-half-month journey through the United States. A collection of nine European and American reviews-including those by Sainte-Beuve. Pellegrino Rossi, John C. Spencer, and John Stuart Mill-allows readers to assess Democracy in America's contemporary reception. Recent interpretations by David Riesman, Max Lerner, Robert Nisbet, James T. Schleifer, Catherine Zuckert, Sheldon S. Wolin, Edward C. Banfield, Daniel T. Rodgers, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Sean Wilentz, Henry Steele Commager, James T. Kloppenberg, and Tamara M. Teale explore Tocqueville's influence on American political thought and on democracy's legacy. A Selected Bibliography is also included.
New York Times Book Review
Gordon S. Wood
"It would be difficult to think of a greater service to the study of Tocqueville than the one performed by Mansfield and Winthrop in their impeccable new edition and translation of Democracy in America. . . . The publisher is justified in claiming that this version will henceforth be seen as the 'authoritative' edition in English."
"An instructive account. . .of the historical sources of The Old Regime."
Robert J. Samuelson
The New York Times
Praise for the work of Joseph Epstein:
"Epstein is one of the premier contemporary American essayists...What is so remarkable about Epstein as an essay writer is that he'll begin a discussion at some personal place...and end up in another place relevant to us all. He enjoys making language work, not making it jump through hoops for show." Booklist
"Joseph Epstein is an essayist in the brilliant tradition of Charles Lamb. He moves so effortlessly from the amusingly personal to the broadly philosophical that it takes a moment before you realize how far out into the intellectual cosmos you've been taken."
"Joseph Epstein's essays no more need his identifying byline than Van Gogh's paintings need his signature. Epstein's stylecall it learned whimsyis unmistakable; for Epstein addicts, indispensable."
"Joseph Epstein is the liveliest, most erudite and engaging essayist we have." James Atlas
"If Epstein's ultimate ancestor is Montaigne, his more immediate master is Mencken. Like Mencken, he has fashioned a style that successfully combines elegance and even bookishness with street-smart colloquial directness. And there is nothing remote or aloof about him."
John Gross, Chicago Tribune
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of North America
North America divided into two vast regions, one sloping toward the pole, the other toward the equator. Mississippi valley and its geology. The Atlantic coast and the foundation of the English colonies. Contrast between North and South America at the time of discovery. North American forests and prairies. Nomadic native tribes and their appearance, mores, and languages. Traces of an unknown people.
North America has striking geographical features which can be appreciated at first glance.
Land and water, mountains and valleys, seem to have been separated with systematic method, and the simple majesty of this design stands out amid the confusion and immense variety of the scene.
The continent is divided into two vast and almost equal regions.
One region is bounded by the North Pole and the great oceans to east and west, while to the south it stretches down in an irregular triangle to the Great Lakes of Canada.
The second starts where the other ends and covers the rest of the continent.
One region slopes gently toward the pole, the other toward the equator.
The lands to the north of the first region slope so imperceptibly that they may almost be described as plains, and there are no high mountains or deep valleys in the whole of this vast level expanse.
Chance seems to trace the serpentine courses of the streams; great rivers mingle, separate, and meet again; they get lost in a thousand marshes, meandering continually through the watery labyrinth they have formed, and only after innumerable detours do they finally reach the Arctic sea.The Great Lakes, which bring this region to an end, are not framed, as are most lakes in the Old World, by hills or rocks; their banks are level, hardly rising more than a few feet above the water. So each is like a huge cup filled to the brim. The slightest change of global structure would tilt their waters to the pole or to the tropics.
The second region is broken up more and is better suited as a permanent home for man. Two mountain chains run right across it; the Alleghenies parallel to the Atlantic, and the Rockies to the Pacific.
The area between these two mountain chains is 1,341,649 square miles, or about six times that of France.
But the whole of this vast territory is a single valley sloping down from the smooth summits of the Alleghenies and stretching up to the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, with no obstacles in the way.
An immense river flows along the bottom of this valley, and all the waters falling on the mountains on every side drain into it.
Formerly the French called it the St. Louis River, in memory of their distant fatherland, and the Indians in their grandiloquent tongue named it the Father of Waters, the Mississippi.
The Mississippi rises in the borderland between our two regions, not far from the highest point in the plain which links them.
Another river which rises nearby flows down into the polar seas. The Mississippi itself sometimes seems in doubt which way to go; it twists backward several times, and only after slowing down in lakes and marshes seems finally to make up its mind and meander on toward the south.
Sometimes gently flowing along the clay bed which nature has carved out for it, and sometimes swollen by storms; the Mississippi waters some twenty-five hundred square miles.
Thirteen hundred and sixty-four miles above its mouth, the river already has a mean depth of fifteen feet, and ships of three hundred tons can go over four hundred and fifty miles up it.
Fifty-seven large navigable rivers flow into it. Among the tributaries of the Mississippi are one river thirteen hundred leagues long, another of nine hundred leagues," another of six hundred, another of five hundred; there are four other rivers of two hundred leagues, not to mention the innumerable small stream on every side which augment its flood.
The valley watered by the Mississippi seems created for it alone; it dispenses good and evil at will like a local god. Near the river nature displays an inexhaustible fertility; the further you go from its banks, the sparser the vegetation and the poorer becomes the soil, and everything wilts or dies. Nowhere have the great convulsions of the world left more evident traces than in the valley of the Mississippi. The aspect of the whole countryside bears witness to the waters' work. Its sterility as well as its abundance is their work. Deep layers of fertile soil accumulated under the primeval ocean and had time to level out. On the right bank of the river there are huge plains as level as a rolled lawn. But nearer the mountains the land becomes more and more uneven and sterile; the soil is punctured in a thousand places by primitive rocks sticking out here and there like the bones of a skeleton when sinews and flesh have perished. The surface of the earth is covered with granitic sand and irregularly shaped stones, through which a few plants just manage to force their way; it looks like a fertile field covered by the ruins of some vast structure. Analysis of this sand and these rocks easily demonstrates that they are exactly like those on the bare and jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains. No doubt the rains which washed all the soil down to the bottom of the valley, in the end brought portions of the rocks too; they were rolled down the neighboring slopes, and after they had been dashed one against another, were scattered at the base of the mountains from which they had fallen. (See Appendix I, A.)
All things considered, the valley of the Mississippi is the most magnificent habitation ever prepared by God for man, and yet one may say that it is still only a vast wilderness.
On the eastern slopes of the Alleghenies, between the mountains and the Atlantic, there is a long strip of rock and sand which seems to have been left behind by the retreating ocean. This strip is only forty-eight leagues broad on the average, but three hundred and ninety leagues long. The soil in this part of the American continent can be cultivated only with difficulty. The vegetation is scanty and uniform.
It was on that inhospital shore that the first efforts of human...
Meet the Author
Isaac Kramnick is the Richard J. Schwartz Professor of Government at Cornell University. His many books include Bolingbroke and His Circle, The Rage of Edmund Burke, Republicanism and Bourgeois Radicalism, Harold Laski: A Life on the Left, and most recently, with R. Laurence Moore, The Godless Constitution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State.
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